New court, dental programs to help mentally ill

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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Two new programs in Topeka will provide court and dental services to some people in Topeka who are suffering from mental illness, beginning in January.

An alternative sentencing court run through the Topeka Municipal Court will allow mentally ill people who committed relatively minor crimes to be released from a jail earlier than scheduled if they comply with a treatment plan. The program also will offer employment, housing and substance abuse help.

The second program will offer dental services to some mentally ill people who don't have dental coverage, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported ( ).

The alternative sentencing court will hear its first docket in early January, said Christine Wills, director of mental health programs at Valeo. A $91,189 federal grant announced in November will pay a clinician and a person coordinating peer support to work with people who will qualify for the court's services. People who have committed violent crimes won't be eligible.

"It'll be intensive follow-up and support," Wills said. "If they don't follow through, they're remanded to jail to finish the sentence we got them out early from."

The program will be a collaborative effort of the Topeka Municipal Court, the city prosecutor, the city probation office, Topeka police, Valeo Behavioral Health Care and the Shawnee County Adult Detention Center.

The county will benefit from the program because treating someone for mental health problems in jail is expensive, Wills said. The expense often isn't necessary because the person might not have had any criminal intent. For example, a mentally ill person may be charged with trespassing while they are wandering with no intent to commit a crime, she said.

Under the second program, mentally ill people who lack dental coverage will be able to get care starting in January through a partnership between Valeo and Community Health Ministry, said Glea Ashley, CEO at Valeo. It's important because many mentally ill people often have not had routine health care for some time and have more advanced problems.

Community Health Ministry will perform only basic cleanings and education but has partnerships to refer people who need more extensive care, Wills said.


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal,

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